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The Birds And The Bees

Playboy’s Chief Content Officer On Talking To Kids About Porn

When you were a kid, your parents worried that you might encounter porn during a sleepover at the house of someone whose parents paid for “those channels” or whose older brother had a stack of Playboy magazines, because your parents dutifully kept their own porn under lock and key. (What? Yes, they did!). But today, 92 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls are exposed to porn online, and since this internet thing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, go ahead and freak out about how hard that is to control or manage.

Or, don’t. Jimmy Jellinek doesn’t, and he might have more cause to fret than you, given his day job. The former Chief Content Officer at Playboy has a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son and he’s worked at the bawdier end of men’s media for nearly 20 years. His perspective on what to say and how to say it when your kid inevitably wants to know what that man is doing to that woman is as insightful as it is low key.

That’s not to say Jellinek doesn’t worry — he worries plenty, just not about what you might think. Here’s his advice for how you talk to kids about porn.

“Teach them that anything that comes through a screen isn’t real.”

Define Sex
Sex is a healthy (and fun!) expression of affection between grown ups, and Jellinek doesn’t leave it at that. “In my house, it’s not about a man and a woman,” he says. “It’s about two people who love each other, which can be a man and a man or a woman and a woman. If you exclude those options, you’re going to confuse them when they encounter it, so I throw it all in the hamper.”

Then Define Pornography
“You want them to understand that porn isn’t real, it’s artifice,” he says. That’s probably too big a word to use on your kid, so keep it simple: “Teach them that anything that comes through a screen isn’t real. Some futurist would probably disagree with me, but whatever.”

Explain The Difference
Beyond love and affection, the most important defining factor with sex is that the adults involved respect one another. Not all pornography depicts sex in a way that demeans someone, but you want your kids to understand the difference. “Teach them about the beauty of love and sex, so they have a context,” he says. That helps them recognize when they see something that isn’t just physically explicit, but explicitly disrespectful. “They have to know that things that get into the realm of degradation are not cool.”

“I like drinking, smoking dope, and watching porn, but I’m an adult.”

Set Boundaries
You can’t keep them from seeing porn, but you can explain why it’s wrong for them to watch it. You work hard to help them develop a moral compass, so make sure they know when to use it. “A 10-year-old shouldn’t be watching porn anymore than they should be drinking or smoking dope,” he says. “That’s not a moral judgement — I like drinking, smoking dope, and watching porn, but I’m an adult.”

Understand The Larger Risk
As the online and offline world blur, the importance of your kid understanding the difference between what’s real and what’s artifice goes way beyond pornography. “Instagram is just as destructive as pornography, and you have to have the same conversation about it,” says Jellinek. “That’s not real life — that’s someone’s curated version of themselves and they’re not happy all the time. It’s ok to be unhappy. Honestly, I worry more about the self esteem issues caused by social media than porn. An Instagram feed where someone is smiling every day is insidious. It’s far more damaging than seeing 2 people screw.”

“Instagram is just as destructive as pornography, and you have to have the same conversation about it.”

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